Monday, May 23, 2011

My Bags are Packed, I'm Ready to FLow...

My Bags are Packed, I’m ready to Flow

By Jacquelyn Hughes Mooney ©11

On May 8th, 2011 my Big City Women series of quilts turned 17; almost grown. I had been an artist in one discipline or another for 37 years in between fits and starts of trying to fit into more “traditional” occupations of wiggling in trying to put a square peg into a round hole.

In 1991after leaving my tenure as first the creative director/choreographer for a performing dance company due to budget cuts, I did not know what I was going to do. After all who wanted a (at that time) 41 year old ex-dancer? My experience in other occupations was limited although multi-dimensional none that ever fit well although I could do the work. But in 1991 I decided or thrust into a leap of faith dreaming of owning my own business, of having a gallery to give a place for newly emerging artists a place to showcase their work.

Despite evidence to the contrary then as well if now more so, emerging artists had difficulty being part of an exhibition; it was/is not unlike the cliché “how do you get a job with no experience and or get experience with no job”? So in true Mooney form I decided to open such a space. At that time I had taken upon myself to put my art on a secondary plane to have this vision. At that time I was creating decorative pillows and soft sculpture dolls which was a struggle for me as my sewing skills were very limited having one semester of sewing in 1964 and flunking that!

But the pillows and dolls sold nicely albeit slowly. So I started driving a cab at nights to earn money to open this space naively thinking I could once opening Jambalaya that I could continue making the pillows & dolls. How naïve, idealistic and unrealistic I was! But the beauty in ignorance there is a freedom that you cannot do any wrong, so let’s go for it!

The store was a success to the point I could not create the very venue that I wanted to & that is to showcase my own work. It did not mean my creativity did not show up other ways not only in the décor, but featuring artist in all the disciplines to the point that even today 20 years later someone will evoke a memory of the place.

What I did not like was the day to day running of the place and did not have the capital to hire someone else to run it so I could create. Fast forward a year and a half later when someone walked into my gallery asking for any more of the pillows I had created. Upon my telling them that I had not made any more, the customer told me she had been taking the stuffing out and framing the covers! At first I was very indignant as it was quite difficult & tedious my doing the pillows since my sewing skills were so limited, but awhile late my brain cells kicked in and I realized “wait a minute, maybe she was on to something”! So I set up my machine in the back of the place & started sewing, sewing on off days and in between customers but instead of making pillows, I looked at what I was doing as painting with fabric; the centers was the “canvas”, the sashing was the “mat” and the binding was the “frame”.

Early Quilt called "Dis n Dat from 1992.  This picture was taken in 2005 at Stagville Plantation in North Carolina:

I then took them first to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (I was living in San Diego at the time) and did nicely. Buoyed by that modest success, I tried at some smaller festivals in San Diego & did not do as well. But I kept on going. The very next year I return to the N.O Jazz & Heritage event and then it happened…

A most extraordinary thing…

As told in a later interview the following happened:

“Mooney’s vibrant and heartfelt textile art has been seen as the tangible results of her own life and the observation of human behavior.

Her popular Big City Women series was born of humble beginnings in 1994 on a trip to her home in New Orleans... She was participating for the first time in the Jazz and Heritage Festival with her decorative pillows and dolls. The day after the Fest ended one of the worst flood recorded in 200 years hit New Orleans. That night between the lightening and the continual rain, the artist woke from a deep slumber to watch what she called “the best laser show she had seen”. She, unable to sleep, started sketching the first of her now 300 appliqué designs called “Passion “that became a major leap into what has been an exciting, dizzying magic carpet ride”.

That is putting it mildly. I sold out at the Fest & was scheduled to leave that Monday, but there was something else getting ready to happen. That Sunday evening hours after the Fest closed, it started raining like I had not ever seen rain. Exhausted, I fell asleep early knowing I had an early morning flight. That was not to take place. Somewhere in the middle of the night that laser show began. As a sidebar, I had been since childhood afraid of lightning & thunder, but that night I was not afraid. From the vantage point where I was laying, I could look out at “the best laser show I had ever seen”. I was strangely very calm, then became inspired got up and started sketching what became the 1st of the Big City Women series©94.

Understand I would have told you I could not draw stick people. The 1st BCW was called “Passion”. That night the 1st ten women were born.

See versions of Passion and other first BCW's

By morning, it was quite apparent I could not leave the city as the airport and everything was shut down as it turned out to be (at that time), the worst flood in 200 years in New Orleans! I could not even get out of the house, so using my host’s sewing machine I started creating these women. Once I could leave several days later I sold Passion. To this day I regretted selling the 1st Passion, but that time I did things without rhyme or conscious reason.


Proudly struttin' in silver streaked slippers...

dazzling emeralds

with a verve....

energy illuminating the midnight sky.

Showering her gifts that whoops & shouts

Thrown about the heavens, her pungent scents.

Cinnamon, lemon of orange blossoms,

creamy magnolia held...

Too long in the dark it seems...

An eternity…


Coming unannounced heralding with splendored golden & coppered grandeur...

With absolutely no delusions of what she will do.

The audacity!

Spilled heavy laden liquid jasmine...

This lagniappe Elle!


Walking accordingly with faith, things not beheld

And proceeding with haste, not wavering grasping her bounty....


Big City Woman! “Who are you? Will you tarry awhile?


Will you take leave quieter then you came?"

"No my sister...

I am here with you, for you & by you…

For as long as you need me to.

I am you”.


“I will be called Passion

My name is Jacquelyn…

Speak it carefully...

Speak of me well, with all due respect....


So much will come, while I am here.

I will tarry awhile to gather up the stars

And sprinkle this confection generously to light up the way....

Until you are ready to take up the walk & talk your talk…

With silver streaked slippers illuminating a darkened sky."

All Rights reservedJHM©95

Other of the early BCW's

But during those several days I was in a sewing & creative frenzy, including the poems about the women although I was not sharing them publicly. I returned to San Diego walked into my gallery the next day looked around & decided in my bones to close it down.

I did just that. And threw everything overboard, moved into my daughter’s tiny 2 bedroom apartment and got to work. I should say the rest was herstory. This very long background is said for one thing: make no mistake; it was not easy, not by a long shot. I sacrificed a lot many a day having to decide between buying a pack of Top Ramen Chinese noodles and buying thread.

My now very grown granddaughters in the early days helping me "quilt".  This piece was later presented to author Terry McMillian.

 I took temp jobs to help pay my rent, moved into a small apartment with drug dealers selling out front, having my broken down old car broadsided & then catching the bus. One of the temp jobs was at a bank in the “dungeon” as it was called filing records. The job was to last a week it went on for several weeks as I did the job very well but here I was coming home too exhausted to work on by this time knowing I was creating quilts.

I struggled with deciding to quit and liking having steady money coming in. Every morning I went in determined to give notice and by the time I got there convinced I the paycheck was worth it. Taking care of my physical needs was one thing, but creatively and spiritually I was malnourished. Then the fateful day occurred when coming home on the bus exhausted I went to step off the bus unaware that the bus did not pull up to the curb and went straight down on my bad leg tearing my tendons. I was ordered off the leg for a few weeks. The bank did not like that & threatened to give my position to someone else. I told them they could as I was done. Know that it was not malice, they were a business and in business to make money & I could not fulfill my obligations.

I did not look back. Within a year I was offered my first artist residency that was a near 10 year run & was published in the first book.

Even in all of that I still was to have many ups & downs curves and lonely roads, but I’ve not looked back until the last 2-3 years while being sorely tested. It seemed everything dried up in me. I was frozen, grieving, bitter & angry. Everything in me burst out health wise including a seriously marked weight gain. It is no reason for me to go into all of that as I’ve blogged numerously about it.

Then suddenly on May 8, 2011 on the day the BCW turned 17 I realized I had flowed very quietly back into creating. It smooth its way in without my even realizing it had happened with a new Big City Woman making her entrance. I had not created a new one in 4 years! And suddenly many of my files that were suppose to be wiped out of my hard drive I started stumbling upon them in chunks including my long lost manuscript for both my short story book & my book of poetry! I found myself smiling as I eased into creating like I used to when I first started with joy & purpose, not with resentment & pressure.

By no shape am I out of the woods. I have so much that needs to be address, people who have been extraordinarily patient waiting on their commissioned pieces. However I think they will be quite pleased when they see their finished art. I can see in what I’ve done so far there is a new depth & vigor in the work. As time goes by I will share some of the images.

Ironically, today in 2011 parallels with those early years as if I was starting over.

I am not…

I am indeed starting up.

Just like I did not know where 18 years ago where I was heading, I just knew I was. The difference between then & now is I am older, wiser and more experienced. Now just like then I still have my naysayers, I still have shadow people who seem to be fascinated enough with me, to do as Dr. Maya Angelou would say about what she refuses to be with others pejorative: belittle/ devalue/ make smaller/ sneering/ depreciatory /sniping. I won’t be the first nor will I ever be the last. There are too many damaged people for that to ever happen.

I am doing some or went through something that sister-friend Oprah Winfrey said her second to last week before closing her successful run about “finding herself not broken but broken open”.

That is where I am.

In fact my trajectory this year will reflect that broken open in ways I cannot tell you yet; I trust that it will simply be not unlike seeing a 60 year old Kristie Alley a board certified Big City Woman make the finals of DWTS (sorry y’all I have to crow on that one) to the some of a single parent mom do something that his predecessors could not do with all the naysayers the hounds with their blood letting could not do, to a very poor & abused Southern girl becomes the most successful person end her 25 year run in high celebration create her own network to my own daughter and others like her walk across the stage to get her degree even when some said it couldn’t be done…

But did it anyway; these are my Big City Women (and men).

Let me end with a description someone wrote about my space about mes affaires belles ~My Beautiful Belongings:

“This space will be so vibey, now and eternal; it speaks of seasons, their rhythm & its colours, be it the lunar rhythms full & waning light & dark; the seasonal rhythms & colours; the rhythms &; colours of our own personal lives & those of our extended family.

It captures it all; yet can be taken so individually to fit each person& feel, perspective, jive & flow... Rhythm & Hues is everything animate & inanimate, relating a magnetic creative force with added New Orleans flamboyance.

So very interpretive being ageless, timeless, spatial, centered, meaningful to both genders...

It can be all things to all people.

Rhythm & Hues beats, hums, sings and speaks...

It poses profiles, winks, smiles and smirks...

It all but breathes...

But then it does that, too”

May I continue to do so and perhaps even one better…. My bags are packed and I’m ready to flow.

All rights reservedJH

If it Ain't Happening (to me).. Is it Happening...Lessons learned from idiocy

If it’s not happening to me, is it happening?

Thirsty people seek water,; hungry people seek food; cold people seek heat; neglected people see acceptance (approval)~Phil McGraw

Warning, this is a long blog:.

Like many others, I woke up this morning to still yet another storm devasting and destroying the many good people of Joplin, Missouri. It took me more then a minute to realize what was going on Good Morning America because as I saw the first images, I thought they were talking about Mississippi! Much to my horror I come to find out this just happened yesterday evening at dinnertime!

Like many I sat there with my jaw dropped opening and heart was wrenching with the early reports. Rapid thoughts going through my head one of which was how easily one’s life can change on a dime to what can be done to help aid the suffering that is just beginning to seeing for myself the irony of while this was going on Sunday evening there I was thinking about something that in comparison to this was quite trivial.

I am sure many others were having similar thoughts with some making needed changes in their lives while most will beyond the initial shock will sooner or later go back to their lives; sort of the “if its not happening to me, it really isn’t happening”. I don’t necessarily mean in a callous way although for some it will be but perhaps (and I am only speculating here), it is a flawed human reaction to distance oneself from these sorts of things out of fear or self preservation...

Sometimes it is simple too much, hurts too much, that the proverbial rug can indeed be pulled from underneath you in the blink of an idea with you not knowing what to do so one can contrive ways to deflect to distance oneself.

Well there I was ruminating over the selfishness & irresponsibility of some people I barely know over their behavior toward me & how their “If it isn’t happening to me” actions brought some real, tangible hurt to me. Not anything that will long term cause permanent damage, but nonetheless the betrayal did sting & in some cases hurt. I was trying to figure out in my mind how to deal with it if there was any dealing at all to do or how I could do a better job of not listening to the stuff. Understand, I can see an elephant coming toward but, I cannot see it when it arrives like a gnat or even a butterfly until slap!

Now again, I know this is very trivial in comparison to what happen last night.

I am getting there.

Right now I am telling a story…

Ok, so where was I… Oh yes… I ended up reading three stories last night one story will be quite familiar to some, the others maybe not so much. I was sitting there Sunday evening meditating on this when I recalled the story of Job and his issue with as he was going to his very challenging trials that he had so called “comforters”, self-righteous tormentors who had to add insult to injury adding to his burden as he was engaged in a trial not of his on doing. My reflections came to a conclusion of wanting more to emulate Job maintain integrity despite it all. Flawed yes, but maintaining.

The next was on Elijah, the prophet who in his despair, feeling he was lost, alone, in fear & tired while being persecuted by Queen Jezebel who made it clear as soon as she caught up with him, that he would be a dead man. She had already killed thousands of believers but made it really clear, she had something special in line for him once he was captured. But at his worst, an angel was dispensed to minister to him not once but twice to help restore him not only physically but more so spiritually to do what needed to be done. And Elijah was not a young man when this persecution was happening. Yet Elijah was listened to as he poured out his distress, was sustained and went on to do miraculous things.

The third was one I had not heard of Mephibosheth. (Please do not ask me to pronounce) He was the son of Jonathon, Kind David closes friend & was disabled. A promise made by King David to Jonathon was to take care of his children. Another man Ziba, who’s family were servants to Mephibosheth, took advantage of a circumstance to bear a falsehood about Mephibosheth which caused him to lose everything. Later when his side of the story was hear the decision came that they both would share the inheritance although Ziba lied. Mephibosheth although he suffered greatly said that Ziba could have everything as the thing that mattered to him more was the safety of King David. That had to be hard, but there was a principle that was involved. I looked at it from the standpoint that despite the fact I have had gynormous challenges & my angst this last week about those who tried to heap fiery coals on my head was more about my being through with them, not about my being hurt. There was a principle involved.

People are going to be self-seeking, self-gratifying, and pleasure-seeking with a growing urgency in not wanting to see what is going on around them. It is the culture we are living in today. People are going to do exactly what their character dictates. Just more of the “it ain’t happening to me” strategy, born of self-interested& yes, fear. It was more, for me, about moving away from the polluted “air” around these folks as I do not want to be contaminated. I did not want to inhale.

Please note I do not think most folks see themselves as being so self-absorbed or selfish. I barely know some of these folks then just in passing, we run into each other often enough to where I know their faces, but not their names for the most part. In some cases, contact may not be completely avoidable. My reflections are about what I can do to improve what I can do to be a better person & perhaps even be more merciful toward them.

Now what does this have to do with my issue with is trivial in comparison to Missouri? Well for me, it was while hurtful and real to me, my situation; there are indeed bigger fish to fry. What people do in the least is what they do in the much; I simply want to be better about rising to an occasion. It never ceases to amaze me how many people seem to take delight or some perverted sense of pleasure or amusement out of someone’s suffering & do nothing. Others who while not getting pleasure so to speak can stand idly by with the “I have to take care of my own” or “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” while standing idly by and do nothing. The “do nothing” are the operative words. However I wish their “do nothing” approach applied in keeping their opinions to themselves and not heap burdens on others as going back to the account of Job. There are many, many people suffering, to varying degrees & individually we do not get to decide who more deserves then the other. We may not individually be able to wipe out world hunger, but we can help a local person or a family even in the smallest thing, a meal or a loaf of bread.

And do it with no strings attached. Aiding someone , let say with a roll of toilet paper (yes there are some who cannot even buy that) does not secure the giver the right to lecture, pass judgment or get titillated by gossiping with someone else as to why or what that person may have (or not) done to be in that both. If you cannot or won’t help, now the times to operate the “does nothing” strategy, 1st do no harm.

A lot of people are not in the positions they are in because of bad “karma” or bad decisions or being lazy. Time & unforeseen circumstances can befall any of us at anytime. Just ask the people of Joplin, Mo who were probably having dinner, playing games, making a run to the store, arguing with a family member or wishing they had family when that massive tornado hit.

Just a couple of days ago I ran into a man at the streetcar who I had just thought in passing he was a bit eccentric. In a city full of eccentrics, you don’t pay a whole lot of attention if you live here; it is part of the territory. Well that same day I asked the bus driver about something he had spoken to her about. Well it turns out every Sat he has a clothing drive gathering clothing for the homeless at a former Walgreen store destroyed by Katrina & now is a furniture bank. He was asking her to pass the word about getting feminine toiletries for homeless women as apparently there was a place allowing these women to shower & they were trying to gather toiletries for them.

I asked her the next time she saw him to please get a contact number not knowing that the very next day I was going to run into him. 7am Sunday morning in fact! I asked him about his project & got a location which turned out to be a furniture bank that I mentioned above. I did not even know this furniture bank existed where they sell every piece of furniture for $35 no matter how fancy or humble. The purpose is for ones who cannot afford the Goodwill or Salvation Army prices but badly needed furniture could purchase; the proceeds are then used to secure even more pieces from yard sales or other events. How cool is that?

Well the furniture bank allowed this man to come in every Sat for people to make clothing only donations. He then with the help of friends goes directly to the homeless to give them fresh clothing, so they could have some dignity. One of the things he told me was contrary to what people want to believe to about the homeless, to justify the “of it ain’t happening to me” strategy, that there were plumbers, architects, college educated people out there who were licensed but could not get hired because they had no address. That was no previous history of drug/ alcohol abuse or mental illness.

The irony is I ran into the same gentleman today who was infuriated and decided to cancel out on gathering clothing for the homeless.  His reasons to me was today when he went by apparently someone came needing workers.  There were 45 homeless out there and only 4 accpeted the work.  His attitude now is "let them fend for themselves.  I won't help any more maybe they will get up and do something on their own".  I understaood his anger & his passion, but he have the full story?  And who was he doing it for?  What was he getting out of it that now he decided that some di dnot do what he felt they should now lets cast them aside?

People never cease to amaze me..  This was lesson number four for me .If you are going to help, check out what your agenda is.  Examine yourself to see what you are doing it for.  If there are clauses, tell people what your clauses are.  It is not fair to expect people to follow a policy or standard but not tell them what it is.

Personally, it was a reminder for me how fortunate I have been. My puzzlement is more of why they would be so fascinated with me to do these kinds of things, but I know it is not about me intellectually I know this, but sometimes one does not see the ambush coming. My prayer is that they not have to ever experience what I’ve been through, still go through that the deflection of “if it ain’t happening to me, it ain’t happening” strategy protects them from harm.

But the reality is sooner or later it will. But I am not so naïve as to think that somehow if and when it does, that all of a sudden they will have an epiphany & change their ways. It is not my job to take that responsibility on. A few will, most won’t, it is part of being flawed/imperfect.

And then Joplin, Missouri happened and all that stuff became trivial.

You cannot wring your hands and roll up your sleeves at the same time~

Polish proverb